|USA Today Sports Images|
Yet the Nationals somehow emerged from all of that with a victory on Thursday, a 5-4, 13-inning triumph over the Cubs that required every ounce of fortitude this team still had in its reserve tank.
"It was pretty unbelievable, but for us to come back like that, that's huge," said Drew Storen, who wound up earning the save. "That's an easy game to just feel sorry for yourself, but we grinded it out. It wasn't the prettiest, but we got the win."
That's the way things are these days for the Nationals. Nothing is coming easily to this team, but every time it looks like Davey Johnson's squad is going to fold, it finds a way to keep fighting.
They're not gaining any ground in the standings — the Nats remain 14 games behind the Braves in the NL East, 9 1/2 games behind the Reds in the NL Wild Card race — but they are enjoying their best stretch in a while, having now won nine of their last 13.
And three of their four losses during this stretch have been by one run, including Rafael Soriano's blown save against the Giants eight days ago.
"There's a lot of heart on this ballclub," Johnson said. "I don't worry about that."
Make no mistake, the Nationals have plenty of flaws. The bullpen is being pieced together with chewing gum and duct tape, and those who are pitching well are exhausted at this point.
The lineup still struggles to produce in big moments, squandering scoring opportunities left and right.
The bench remains less-than-ideal, resulting in a scenario Thursday in which the Nationals had Anthony Rendon at shortstop, Steve Lombardozzi at second base and Tyler Moore at first base. That nearly turned into a defensive disaster.
But they found a way to win, scoring the winning run in the top of the 13th on Chad Tracy's swinging bunt, then watching as Storen got a double-play to end the game in the bottom of the inning and send this team off to Kansas City with a 63-64 record.
It's probably too late to result in a dramatic run toward a playoff berth. But if you thought the Nationals were going to pack it in and just play out the stretch, you were sorely mistaken.
"We're not just gonna roll over, take a loss," Rendon said. "We're trying to go out there every game and get a W. That's the way the game is, that's the way we're trying to play. We're trying to play hard."
Not that anyone would complain about a run-of-the-mill, simple, nine-inning victory, of course.
"It's draining, but it's also gratifying in a different sense," Storen said. "Ideally we just play nine innings, get on the plane and go. But it tests you. That's when you really learn something about yourself. Grind-it-out victories on the road, that's never easy. But in the end it probably means a little bit more."